Getting Fit for Diving
Read any diving manual or book and they all emphasize on the fact that you should be physically fit and healthy. Some manuals will really stress that divers should practice regular exercise of all sorts to improve their overall diving ability. While it is true that the more physically fit you are, the more your diving ability will improve, you don’t need to be an Olympian or major athletic competitor. Initially the most basic forms of exercise will improve your diving ability and safety almost exponentially.
When it comes to scuba diving, divers are putting their body through intense pressure, even though at the time it may not seem so.
Firstly come the physical stresses on the body; diving equipment is heavy and moving in and out of the water while carrying equipment stresses the body. Once in the water, swimming again places a load on the heart and lungs as well as the muscles of the body that have to work to propel the diver. This load can increase enormously when having to deal with currents or adverse weather conditions, coupled with additional stress on the body due to breathing denser gases at depth.
Secondly come the psychological stresses of being in an alien environment, which can lead to an increase in adrenaline production, elevated blood pressure and heart rate, which in combination with physical stress can lead to panic, or even worse.
Why being fit improves your diving
Arguably, the key improvement to diving safety by improved physical fitness is the reduced susceptibility to DCS. By increasing your lean body mass and reducing the fat content in the body, you improve the body’s capacity to carry oxygen and improve circulation. This leads to a greatly reduced susceptibility to DCS. Research has shown that hyper fit individuals know a much reduced incidence of Decompression Sickness.
The second improvement to diving is the diver’s ability to physically cope with adverse conditions. A diver may struggle working hard in a current, and end up with a serious problem caused by his lack of fitness. On the other hand, a fitter, stronger individual will be able to navigate the situation much more easily since his body can better cope with the stresses placed upon it.
The first step—smoking
Quitting smoking is the first step any diver should undertake to improve their diving and overall health. Aside from the normal side effects of smoking on the health, it causes some serious ramifications for divers. Smoking strips the surfactant in the diver’s lungs, causing the alveoli to stick together, which reduces the ability of the diver’s lungs to transfer gases in and out efficiently. Smoking also generates Carbon monoxide in the blood, which can greatly interfere with the blood’s ability to carry Oxygen around, and thus makes off-gassing very inefficient. Overall the drawbacks of smoking from a diving perspective are alone worth quitting for dedicated scuba divers.
Working out will greatly improve a diver’s ability and comfort levels. Generally, the best forms of exercise for divers are ones that increase lean mass, reduce body fat, and increase the body’s ability to carry oxygen and transport gases around the body. However, there is no specific workout for diving, any exercise that improves the
body’s general condition will help improve safety and ability in the water.
One key aspect of training in general (not just for diving) is nutrition. Consuming a balanced diet that is oriented towards your goals, is almost half the battle in terms of achieving your fitness goals. Generally, most balanced diets are relatively low on carbohydrates, fats, and sugars, and high on protein. Obviously, it is highly recommended to get help from a professional to develop a training and nutrition plan to get you where you want.
What types of training should I undertake?
There are multiple types of training you can undertake to improve your diving abilities. Generally, you’ll want to focus your efforts on training that improves your cardiovascular function, your body’s ability to carry oxygen around, and reduces the overall fat content of your body. Obviously not all exercises are created equally, and it is advisable to focus on the lowest impact forms of exercise. Consider swimming and elliptical training, as well as stationary bike riding. On the other hand, some recent evidence suggests that jogging up to 24 hours before a dive, will offer the diver enhanced protection in terms of susceptibility to DCS. A note of caution about this study–it was conducted on Navy divers, who are already highly fit individuals.
Can I weight train when diving?
Weight training or resistance training is a key part of any diver’s training regimen. Weight training increases muscle mass and reduces body fat content along with improving cardio. The main issue with weight training and diving is when to conduct it. The way you build muscle is through creating many micro tears in the muscle fibers through repeatedly lifting near the maximum of your capacity. Your body then heals these tears by building up muscle fibers, and creating more fibers to enable you to lift heavier weights. Unfortunately, these tears are not great in terms of off-gassing since they are the equivalent of a bruise. Hence, they increase susceptibility to DCS. It’s best to avoid heavy weight training up to 48 hours prior to a dive, and also after a dive to avoid any complication with bubbles getting trapped within your muscle tissue.
Will quitting smoking improve my air consumption?
As noble as quitting smoking to improve your air consumption is, you should really quit smoking for the sake of your overall health. However, the answer is relatively simple: Yes, quitting smoking will improve your air consumption. Although this will not be an immediate effect but will happen over a longer period of time, as your lungs heal and repair themselves from the damage caused by smoking. One thing to note is that a lot of divers have reported that they feel their air consumption getting worse just after they have quit smoking. Why this happens is unknown and it does not last for a very long time, and within a few weeks you should be back to normal; as your VO2 max improves along with your general health and fitness levels.
What is the best training split I can use?
To maximize your safety and comfort, use a simple off-season/diving season split. During the diving off-season you should emphasize more the weight/resistance training aspect of your routine. This will increase lean mass and build up strength. During the diving season, focus more on cardio based exercise to cut body fat and improve conditioning without over-stressing your body while diving. Needless to say, cardio training should not be neglected during the off-season. And overall endurance and conditioning should still be pursued. One of the best ways to do so is through HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) to maximize gains from cardio without jeopardizing improvements in weight training.